As a matter of political pastime or even serious study, leaders and observers often try to note who blinks first in a confrontation between two major powers

Viewed in this perspective, there is a message in the absence of an instant blink-watch when Japan set free the captured Chinese captain of a fishing boat on September 24. He was not formally charged. This can perhaps be treated as a sign of maturity in the enormously complex relationship between Beijing and Tokyo.

However, the statements by the two sides on this event bristled with the tone and tenor of righteous indignation. At the same time, the discernible political mood behind the scenes, a day or two after the captain’s release, was one of trying to prevent a further escalation of tensions. It was too early, at the time of writing, to foresee with certainty how exactly Japan and China ride out this new storm in their increasingly direct and dynamic engagement within the larger framework of inter-state cooperation in East Asia.

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